Derailed: A Hard Lesson Offers Extraordinary Growth and Opportunity

Derailed. No, I’m not referring to the recent Amtrak derailment in Vermont caused by falling rocks; yet, my derailment is similar in nature because it was also unexpected, unavoidable, painful, and threw my life off balance, forcing me to slow down.

Ah, but let me back up. I’ve had a whirlwind year of challenges and triumphs. A year ago I decided to down-size my life: to consciously slow down, minimize, and create a simpler life that would allow me the opportunity to travel. I sold and gave away the “stuff” and moved to a tiny place in the country. Everything was set for peace, travel, a gentler life. Instead, like a train gaining momentum, my life picked up speed until it eventually derailed.

Rather than my plans of leisurely travels followed by periods of reflection, writing, and downtime upon my return, my schedule instead intensified:

January–I spent 10 days exploring Santa Fe and Albuquerque, NM. The first trip in my journey to explore the USA by rail, it was all I had hoped for–excitement, enchantment, pushed boundaries, and a re-found love of culture. While in Santa Fe, I decided to start a second edition of the magazine I publish in Kansas City: Evolving Magazine.So rather than going home and re-energizing and processing the trip, I started planning another quick return to Santa Fe.

March–Back for 10 days in Santa Fe to get the magazine ready to launch: finding a printer and distributor, researching the local market and competition, establishing writers, and selling advertising. This wasn’t a vacation and wasn’t part of my planned travels. It was work. Work I enjoy, albeit, but still work, nonetheless. Starting a new magazine is labor intensive and this was no exception. But after 10 days, we had a foundation set and prepared to launch the magazine in May 2015 (a two-month start date is unheard of, but I like to act quickly).

May–Again to Santa Fe for four days for the launch party. This was a vacation of sorts and thoroughly enjoyed. Still, the quick push and then excitement from launching the new magazine wore me down. I didn’t know it, but I was getting close to derailment.

August–I spent 15 days traveling the South. This was a dream trip. In four cities throughout the South, I dined, I learned about civil rights, history, and what it means to live in the South. I explored the beautiful country, made new friends, and also enjoyed time with family at the end of the trip. Still, I came home exhausted and found several fires that were simmering while I was away, nearly out of control.

Originally I had planned a trip to Oregon and Washington in the fall but decided during my trip South I would hibernate the rest of the year and take a break from traveling. So many articles to write from that trip: in addition to a variety of tourism articles (weekend getaways, eating local, the fisherman’s widow, solo in New Orleans, and more), I’m working on, “A Lesson in Human Rights,” (probably my most important piece of writing to date) plus stories about an artist in Tuscaloosa, Al., a winery near Gainesville, Ga., a green hotel in Greensboro, Nc., and so much more. I knew between the two magazines and my writing, the rest of the year was booked.

Then my appendix burst and my life derailed. This wasn’t in my plans for the year, I whined to myself. My supposedly down-scaled life had picked up so much speed that it took a major catastrophe like facing death and spending a week in the hospital and another month recouping before surgery to take some forced down time. (The surgery isn’t until the end of October, so I suspect my life will slow down even further for a bit longer.)

What have I discovered during this derailment? A catastrophe that I simply did not have time for?

I’m reading books again. Before, life was so fast, everything I read was information from the Internet, emails, research articles, more emails. I had a love/hate relationship with this instant information. By being forced to slow down, I sit outside and just sit. I lay on the couch for hours at a time and read a book simply for pleasure. In the hospital, one of my daughters brought me an adult coloring book and now I lay in bed and doodle. For a somewhat type-A personality who is always on the go, this forced down time (at first) was nearly painful. I thought of everything on my to-do list. I thought of the messages that were waiting for me unanswered and felt guilt. And then I let it go.

Lately, I’ve found myself relishing this time spent without purpose. This morning I read an article that explains it well: I Could Travel Full Time. Here’s Why I Don’t that isn’t only about not traveling full time, it’s about not doing full time–and at full speed. Author Anne Lowrey, writes: “I’ve now likened this fast pace to running and noise. In simple terms, being home with no plans to leave…is sitting in stillness. Sitting still can be difficult for an ambitious person living in our modern world, even more so for a traveler. But how can we find meaning without the time and space to reflect on it?”

And thanks to an unexpected side-trip–a derailment from my original plans–I’m finding that space.

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